The NRL’s Cronulla Sharks have allowed the release of star winger Valentine Holmes after the player quit the club to pursue a career in American Football.
23-year-old Holmes has been thoroughly impressive in recent years and his performances had drawn interest from league rivals North Queensland Cowboys. 2018 was, indeed, a sterling year for the flying winger and the Sharks had offered him a huge five-year-deal to remain with the club, a deal which would have made him the highest paid player in the club’s history. After shining this year, scoring twenty-two tries for the 2016 Premiers in the process, Holmes also made three try-scoring appearances for Queensland in this summer’s State of Origin series. Despite being the top scorer for both tries and points in the best-of-three series, the thirteen-time Aussie international winger was on the losing side of the series. Nevertheless, his incredible ability and form – records of 66 tries in 106 Cronulla matches, 17 in 13 for his national team and eight in five for the Maroons – left the goal-kicking winger as one of the very best players in the NRL.
However, the Sharks have agreed to release Holmes from the final year of his deal for him to chance his arm in the NFL and will now head to IMG Academy in Florida for trials. Holmes will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of former NRL players Jarryd Hayne and Jordan Mailata in earning contracts with franchises in the USA as opposed to Tongan powerhouse Jason Taumololo. The Cowboys’ forward sought a deal in the NFL, trialling in 2016 alongside Holmes, but was ultimately unsuccessful and went on to sign a massive ten-year deal with North Queensland in the NRL.
Holmes, however, has returned to NFL and will be hoping that he can transfer his unquestionable rugby league talent to gridiron. The move, though, isn’t without controversy. Paul Gallen, Holmes’ captain at Cronulla, has called for the player to be banned from the sport. If the winger is unable to secure a deal in the NFL and wants to return to the NRL in 2019, he will only be able to do that with the Sharks – that much has been guaranteed in the terms of release. Gallen, though, unloaded both barrels on Holmes in an interview with the Australian media. “I’ve got nothing against him personally obviously I thanked him for everything he’s done at our club, he’s won a premiership with us, he’s been our best player but the way this has happened I’m disappointed in him,” he told Channel 9. “He had one year left on his contract and we don’t get this far in this game or any game without your teammates. And Val’s left us, he’s walked out on us, which I find disappointing,” the hugely experienced forward added.
Despite both being key parts of the Sharks’ title-winning team of 2016, Gallen also outlined his belief that the player shouldn’t be welcomed back to the sport in the near future after walking out on his deal. “The guys that have the ability to go to the NFL are the marquee players, they’re the best players, they’re the players our kids aspire to be, and he’s just broken a contract – not only does he have a Sharks contract, he has an NRL contract,” he explained. “I don’t see how this is good for the integrity of the game. I think it’s got to be a minimum two years out of the game and if not out forever,” the 37-year-old continued.
NRL chief Todd Greenberg, however, is more supportive of Holmes’ decision – yet doesn’t necessarily expect him to be away from league for long. “We’ve seen this happen before whether it’s the NFL or rugby [union] where they’ve come back in a short space of time. I wish him well,” he told the media. “We don’t want to make it easy for people to leave the code, but in saying that if he wants to come back there is a conversation to be had. Whether it’s in 2019 when he is effectively contracted to the club which he has been playing.”